Following mounting concerns on the safety of recycled tire materials used on artificial turf fields, a multi-agency federal initiative has been launched Friday to investigate the potential health hazards.
Tire crumb or bits of recycled tires have garnered attention since 2014, when concerned parents and groups started to ask whether repeated contact with the said material could lead to cancer.
Known for their lower costs, easier maintenance, and durability, artificial turf playing field are a popular alternative to grass fields.
"I am very pleased that we are joining forces to investigate crumb rubber, as millions of children are exposed to it on playground surfaces and as infill on playing fields," said Consumer Product Safety Commission chair Elliot Kaye, referring to the partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last Friday.
Last month, senators Richard Blumenthal and Bill Nelson called on the Obama presidency to spearhead a comprehensive look at the health effects of crumb rubber. They cited findings from a University of Washington soccer coach, who found 153 documented cases of cancer in athletes spending significant time on turf fields.
Crumb rubber serves as cushion and source of traction on the turf fields, and usually end up in the ears, mouths, and clothing of athletes. The reported cancer-stricken players play football, field hockey, and a variety of sports on those artificial turf fields.
“Parents and athletes of all ages want and deserve conclusive answers on whether exposure to crumb rubber turf can make one sick,” wrote Sen. Nelson to President Obama last month, urging for the combined work of the three federal agencies.
According to EPA spokesperson Laura Allen, the study will involve a technical team of nearly 50 employees and a budget of $2 million for research. The agencies will hopefully release a draft report of their findings by this year’s end.
The EPA earlier left it to the individual states to conduct their own studies – an approach stemming from its marketing of crumb rubber for sports fields as a way to reduce the nation’s waste tire stockpile.
While they are known to contain a host of chemicals and compounds, used tires started to be recycled in the 1990s by turning them into crumb-sized pieces, a majority of which are used as infill for artificial fields. The strategy has been keeping old tires out of many landfills and saving municipalities water and maintenance efforts.
In the United States, there are an estimated 12,000 crumb rubber fields today, most of which are outdoors and are used by children and teens as school fields and playgrounds.
Photo: Woodley Wonder Works | Flickr